Dozens of students marched through the University of Kentucky’s campus Friday to protest rape culture and how the university handles sexual assault cases.
The march, which was organized by the UK Feminist Alliance, began in the Woodland Glen area and made wide loops around campus before coming to a stop outside UK President Eli Capilouto’s house.
The group has been angered by UK’s refusal to release files from a sexual harassment investigation involving a former professor. In the midst of the investigation, associate entomology professor James Harwood resigned.
UK Feminist Alliance outreach coordinator Madison Woods said recent national events, including the election of Donald Trump as president, helped spur the march as well.
“Right now we as a group and the people who are with us are frustrated about rape culture and sexual assault being normalized and, I guess, revered on a national level as we can tell by our president-elect,” Woods said.
During Trump’s campaign, a dozen women came forward and accused him of sexual assault or harassment, though no criminal charges have been filed.
“What we really wanted to do is to create change, and we didn’t want to scream into the abyss and say these things like ‘Donald Trump is a terrible person,’ because that’s not going to do anything; we want to make change on our level, on a home level,” Woods said.
Naiara Porras, one of the organizers with the Feminist Alliance, said prejudices she’s seen on campus recently compelled her to do something.
When Porras first arrived in the United States, she was scared to walk down the street for a long time, she said. But she overcame her fear.
“I’m from Spain, I’m an immigrant, I’m gay, I’m a woman and I was sexually assaulted when I was a kid so it was really hard,” Porras said.
Since the election, Porras said she is scared all over again. She said she’s witnessed several instances since the election where people who are immigrants or who are gay have been mocked.
“Now, because of Trump, that behavior has been normalized,” Porras said.
UK Feminist Alliance social media chair Sarah McCurrach said she was sexually assaulted in high school, and that her experience drove her to take part in the march Friday.
“I was silent for a long time; emotionally it did me a lot of damage, and I finally found the voice, partly through this club, to speak out about it,” McCurrach said.
Now, McCurrach hopes she will be able to speak for people across campus who are survivors of sexual assault.
“Today we are marching for all of the women and men on this campus who have been victims of sexual assault, and it goes far beyond this campus, it goes to every nook and cranny of the world, and it’s time that the silence is broken because people don’t talk about it,” McCurrach said.
Throughout the march, students chanted for the university to “protect your students, not your reputation” and called for them to “release those records.”
UK has said it is refusing to release the records in the harassment case to protect the identities of the victims.
“We cherish the expression of free speech and thought on our campus, and we applaud and respect those who have spoken out today,” UK spokesman Jay Blanton said Friday. “That right is fundamental to who we are as an institution of higher learning.
“At the same time, we maintain that truly honoring the value of transparency and free expression in this issue is ensuring that the victim-survivor is allowed to choose whether, how and when to tell their stories. Their rights should be honored as well. We believe the law clearly provides that protection.”